On Westgate and “my kind of people”

This is a guest post by Eileen O’Gorman, a friend, a writer & a fellow St. Louisan.

I heard about the shooting in Nairobi’s Westgate Mall last Saturday and not too long later my Kenyan friends were posting updates about their safety and the safety of those they love. I watched the updates as they came to my home in the U.S.

It was similar to what had transpired just a few days earlier when terror hit Washington D.C.’s Navy Yard. In that case I learned of it via status updates first—with requests for prayer and thanksgiving for the safety of loved ones.

Westgate Shopping MallI visited Nairobi about five years ago and have spent time in a mall like Westgate. As I learned about the attack my mind went there: six stories, clothing retailers, a large grocery store inside. I could picture it. It’s not the same as an American mall, but full of people nonetheless.

When these incidents strike in foreign lands we may consider if it is as bad for “them” as it is for “us” when we face violence and death.

Sociologist call “them” the Other with a capital O. In writing this post I am inspired by another recent article that called attention to the term “Other” as it showed a black man

Photographer: Simon Maina/AFP
Photographer: Simon Maina/AFP

carrying a white child out of Westgate. Depending on where you sit, one of the people in that picture may be Other to you.

The Other, for me, at times is the multimillionaire that lives one block away (I live in a modest apartment with a nice address). Or it could be the indigenous subsidence farmer in Latin America. I am not much like either one.

When these “others” feel pain do I have empathy? We tend to only have empathy for those with whom we can identify in some way.

How deep do we—as Christians—allow “otherness” to creep into our thinking? For instance, does the plight of the church in Syria and surrounding countries call us to prayer? Or do we need to wait for our country of origin to get involved in the conflict before we “tune in”?

The apostle Paul said of the body of Christ “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it…” 1 Corinthians 12:26.

Speaking to Americans in particular here, a comment from my Iranian friend may help lessen our self-criticism. She once said to me, “America is a huge country. You have a whole world just within your own borders you are trying to understand.” Her grace is appreciated.

Yet Paul also wrote, “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” Colossians 3:11. In Christ dividing lines disappear.

Back to Westgate. Can we be honest about how we feel (or don’t feel) when tragedy strikes in a foreign land? I believe Christian maturity calls us more and more toward awareness of all kinds of suffering around the world. We are called to see beneath skin color, language, hair—curly or straight. We are called to see that—as my seminary professor would say—God is not just a God of “my kind of people.”

And what do we do as we reach such realizations? Are we suddenly in charge and in a position to solve the problems of this world that we now see? No. We are called to dependence. Dependence on the One who created our world. We are called to cry out to the Lord to save this world that we don’t understand. And to ask for clarity on our role in contributing to the common good—good that most certainly will stretch across national, ethnic, racial and political boundaries.

Since the tragedy at Westgate Kenyans and others are using the hashtag #OneKenya. Lets add a couple of hashtags to the mix: #OneChurch and #OneWorld. And let’s depend on the Lord’s grace to seek this reality.

You can reach Eileen through Twitter @eileen_clare

“Within the Ribbon”

This is a guest post from my father, Jim Hatch, who lives in St. Louis, MO, USA.

We looked forward to the wedding of our good friend this summer.  But there was a puzzle I Within the Ribbonneeded to solve.  Nestled within the wedding invitation was a small card, about business card size, embossed with the words

             Within the Ribbon

“Within the Ribbon?”   Klutz that I am, I had no idea what that meant.  Come to find out Jan and I were to be seated within the section reserved for family.  The beautiful church was crowded.  We approached the waiting usher and I showed him my ‘Within the Ribbon’ card.  Nodding, he took us to the second row, directly behind the bride’s mother.  It happened.  We were seated as of we really were family.

I thought about that later.  Treated as if family.  Isn’t that what the Lord’s done with me?  It struck me that as good as it was to be ‘within the ribbon’, the Lord’s done one far, far better.

Not merely treated as if family but actually made his children!

Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase, The Message, captures the wonder of it all in 1 John 3:1, “What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it–we’re called children of God!  That’s who we really are.”

But the difference is even more striking.  Jan and I were friends of the bride and her family.  And with the Lord?  We are “no longer…aliens, but are…members of the household of God (Eph. 2:19).  The Lord took those who were his enemies, aliens, and made them his children through what Jesus has done.  Enemies made sons and daughters.

So when I’m feeling sorry for myself, or full of self-importance, or whatever, I’m trying more regularly to look back at the Lord’s little card that he sends me in the scriptures, “Within the Ribbon” — enemies made children.

Jim Hatch recruits church planters for Mission to North America; email him at jhatch@pcanet.org for questions or comments.

Frontline Prayer Meetings

Jack Miller, in his book Outgrowing the Ingrown Church, makes a distinction between two types of prayer meetings: Maintenance and Frontline. Miller confesses to having led both kinds in churches he pastored.

Miller writes, “people came to the Frontline prayer meeting to be changed. They discovered what Augustine had emphasized, that man’s chief need is to fellowship with Ingrown churchGod, to find fulfillment in Him, and to experience the abiding presence of Jesus. (Psalm 27.4; Psalm 36.7-9; John 14.18-23; John 15.1-10)  So they came to be changed, and they were changed because Jesus kept his promise to be wherever two or three gather in his name. (Matthew 18.19-20)  From him they received grace to confess and forsake their sins, to be touched with his compassion for the lost, and to go forth to ‘put feet on their prayers’ through witnessing by words and deeds of love.”


“…The Frontline prayer assembly has a revolutionary purpose.  The prayer of those who attend it is summarized in the words: ‘Thy Kingdom Come’.  Their spirit imparted desire is to see the power of God’s kingdom revealed and to see the social segregation of the ‘turned-in’ church replaced by a welcoming community of faith and love.”

By God’s grace, may New City be a church of Frontline prayer meetings.

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